Today the Star Gazette published an article (link here) about a group of current and former Elmira and Chemung County leaders who are working together to address Elmira’s dire fiscal health and bring that information to the public.
The group’s members include City Councilman Jim Waters, Mayor Dan Mandell, County Legislator Marty Chalk, retired city Public Works Commissioner Charlie Shaffer, retired Elmira Police Chief Scott Drake, retired Fire Chief Pat Bermingham, former City Council member Dan Royle and Marc Monichetti, owner of the Elmira Fitness Center.
The article quotes Councilman Waters, the group’s founder, as stating that “[the group believes] any real or perceived slights should be set aside for the good of both the city and the county taxpayer. A collaborative effort to identify, prioritize, and solve problems is imperative at this point. Each day that passes is an unnecessary and perilous delay.”
The article also briefly addresses a matter that has been widely discussed in the community since last week’s announcement of Elmira’s proposed 17% tax hike – whether dissolution of the City is one of the alternatives being considered.
Answering questions about why Elmira did not pursue a $20 million state grant last summer that would ostensibly have helped ease its’ financial stress, City Manager Mike Collins said he “called the state directly. I said ‘If the county applies for the grant and Elmira is listed, what does that mean for Elmira?’ She said the city would dissolve. If we were to dissolve, it would have to go for a vote and the question was — what if taxpayers don’t want the city to dissolve and we received the money? I think there were too many unanswered questions. The City Council as a whole decided not to pursue that.”
I had a chance to sit on a meeting with this group last week to observe and learn more about the issues. Although there are many different ways to go about solving our area’s problems, one thing seemed abundantly clear – the group wants the public to be informed about what is going on.
These matters unfortunately are not isolated to Elmira, as evidenced by Village of Van Etten’s recent vote to dissolve due to financial stress. Indeed, a report about the Village of Van Etten by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) shows the tax rate in the Village of Van Etten rose by 50% over the past five years at the same time its debt grew, leading to an unsustainable situation. Many other local municipalities are facing significant economic issues, underscoring the need for cooperation across the county to acknowledge these problems exist and begin addressing them together.